The number rises, a red tide swelling on the pristine sand, unseen from the upscale highrises, far above the shore. From their balconies they see an ocean of possibilities, an endless sea of support, while the bloodstains dilute in the vast waters far from their view, yet right in their own backyard.
The brochures advertise the white sand, swept clean for photo ops by tireless crews there to keep the view breathtaking and the beaches clear of the “savage” waste. They own the land, so can live in their blissful ignorance, high in their towers, unhindered by the efforts of the maintenance staff.
On August 17, 2014, her body was found, wrapped in a duvet and loaded down with rocks near the shores. She was 15 years old.
When she was 12, her father, already dying of cancer, was brutally beaten and left tied in the cold until death. She ended up in so-called protective care, who in the weeks preceeding her death, discarded her unsupervised in a hotel, a vulnerable youth left to her own devices. Unconscious, she was seen and released by hospital staff, a 15 year old alone in crisis.
A 56 year old man with 92 previous convictions, somehow still on the streets, regularly supplied the child with a variety of drugs in a basement, where witnesses say he fondled her, and asked her to “just do (him)”.
Two weeks before she died, Tina called the police on him for stealing a van, and told them that he had stolen her bicycle and sold it to buy drugs. The police, somehow failed to take the 15 year old’s name or notice that she was underage in this horrific situation and took the word of the man who convinced them a Led Zepplin-look-a-like was the real suspect. After all, it’s just another at-risk Native girl in Manitoba.
What hapened next is not fully known, the evidence washed away by the rushing waters, but the duvet that covered her tiny 72 lb body matched his. In recordings, he repeatedly alluded to his crimes, and yet the jury somehow declared him “not guilty” of her murder. No talk of negligence for the agencies who exist to protect her. It’s not their fault. They didn’t add the rocks to the duvet.
And so another body washes up on the shore overnight and is brushed away by the crews before the light of day so that the occupants don’t muddy their view or lower their property values. If they see the occasional drop of blood stained through the grains of sand, they complain that they now can’t walk barefoot along the shores, that the staff is inadequate but refuse to increase the wages to hire enough workers to do a proper job. And once in a while, they may sympathize with the maintenance staff on the difficulty of their job, or the horrors that cause the beaches to be stained in the first place, but more often than not, they remain oblivious, enjoying the view.
In light of recent events, I felt compelled to write this piece to express my thoughts to all the other white-breads out there and I’m hoping you’ll hear my words and at the very least, consider them.
I’ve always been a strong advocate of nonviolence, preaching tolerance and love in face of war and evil and spreading this message far and wide. Building is always superior to dismantling, I’ve said, because if you build a better world parallel to the old, there’s no need for force. I have educated myself in this direction and worked all my adult life in this vein, truly believing it to the core of my being.
The events of late have not changed my personal resolve, but rather have truly shifted my eyes to the harm this exclusive position can have on those its meant to support. There’s strength in numbers, specifically in the ideas we temper to structure our values, and rigidity has no place in an ever changing world.
I’ve realized there’s a time for hope and positivity, but suppressing emotion to serve those goals isn’t positive. Or helpful. Erasing those realities only adds to the harm and dimishes the entire aim of the exercise. To truly defeat evil, yes, you must love thy enemy, but also constrain them from doing greater harm. Sometimes defeat them, and be intolerant of their evil to stop the plague of paradoxes over the limits of tolerance itself. There is no compromise to evil.
The streets aren’t safe for those whose skin has already worn a lifetime of oppressions, faced a gaunlet of discriminations, and subtleties meant to weaken their spirit and resolve. They rightly fear the tide of hate that swells against them, but stack the sandbags in preparation for the next flood.
These differences may not be inherent, rather imagined in our collective consciousness as realities worthy of distinction, but that imagination has summoned a brutality more real than any the universe could ever have created. A force evil enough to divide the life within us all, and place hierarchy on ignorance, all subtly clamouring for the highest place in some master power scheme we created to feel more secure in our place in it.
We can’t change the past, but we also can’t erase the fact that we were raised with inherent biases that have taught us our place on that hierarchy and have positioned us so without regard to our awareness of it. Our privilege is not some magic path to success, a guarantee of the “good” life. Our skin just shades us from the true realities of those on supposed lower rungs. We keep our eye on the top, and don’t look back for fear of falling and wonder why others don’t succeed as we’re stepping on their fingers and blocking their path.
It pains me to speak these words, but it needs to be said. I’m a racist, and the rest of my life, no matter how hard I work to supress this pedagogy that has been rammed down my throat since birth, I will never fully overpower it. No matter how much I read, support, listen, and work to become a good “ally”, these biases rest within me, subconsciously steering my positions and erasing the realities I can’t comprehend.
And so I must consider, that my biases have blinded me in some ways, and clouded my values to the extent that the lines are now blurred. I must resist the urge to become defensive and face the evil knowing that I am truly part of it, no matter how hard I may work to supress it. Hate dies in understanding, so I must understand and truly hear the voices that tell my subconscious it is flawed. I am an imperfect being. But owning your flaws and striving to better them is never a lost cause.
Now is not the time to play defense. Now is the time to fight my own values, and suffer the pain of their loss, realizing that that fight pales against the violence I actively create with my own subconscious. It’s time we lessened the burden and came back down to the ground. It’s time we laid this ladder to rest, and whatever way it comes down, we must be ready to fall. After all, we have ignorantly placed ourselves on this precarious perch.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, people always assume I’m a bleeding heart Liberal. For the record, I’m not. In fact, I hate both philosophies with great passion and cannot align myself to one over the other. I take serious issue with many of their main arguments and question the necessity of their existence at all. I critique literally every politician in existence, because I think we should. Democracy does not begin and end in the voting booth. Critique does not mean they are incapable of good, just that they are an imperfect human, as are we all. It’s how they handle the critique that matters.
Divisions of red and blue. Man vs woman. Liberal vs Conservative. Democrat vs. Republican. Country vs country. Divisions deepened by politician’s rhetoric, sharpened by the media’s tongue, biased by our own ignorance and fear of the unknown, we bleed peace in order to feel like we belong. We divide ourselves into these neat little boxes that are apparently entirely separate entities, when reality is more like a Venn diagram of commonality, with only tiny slivers of difference on each edge.
We all want to have the things we need to survive and thrive, we want a chance at a good life, because not having that, with all the advances and knowledge that currently exists in this world, seems like a system based on pure sadism. We see different ways to get there, and so we should. There is no mould for how to make the world.
Sometimes I wonder if it will take proving the existence of actual aggressive extraterrestrials threatening humanity’s very existence to bridge the global divide. I certainly fucking hope not.
Thing is, representatives were originally so-called because they were to represent the will of their constituents. Instead they follow the party line and deepen the political divides they created to keep themselves in the game. And, oh boy, is it ever a game. They spend more time and money winning elections than writing bills, sitting with lobbyists over constituencies. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Government, in and of itself is not a bad thing. In it’s purest form, it’s people coming together to ensure that those within its reach have a chance to thrive and come together. If it didn’t oppress, but rather uplifted, if it wasn’t stacked as a game of fame and favour, but rather a true privilege and honour to be part of, strongly rooted in a desire to make this planet better for ALL of us, if it was something we all had a true say in, we would see it as humanity’s saviour, and not some cumbersome and heartless entity that’s so embroiled in bureaucracy that it erases the humanity of those it espouses to serve.
Divisions are a political weapon of democracy, deepened by those who don’t want “the people” to actually have a say, and work to keep them in the dark of the true reality. This partied system of democracy is placating the population so that the wizardly oligarchy can do their own bidding behind the screen. I think it’s time to click our heels three times and come back to reality. We’ve spent far too long in Oz.
I never identified as queer. Growing up in a small rural town, there weren’t many options.
My older sister, the paragon of femininity, me casting off her hand me downs for my cousins or grandpas clothes instead. Playing every sport imaginable, asking family and friends to call me “Joe”, which I could always laugh off as short for “Joesphine” should I ever face the challenge. Dad had wanted boys, and they tried four times before they retired. So it seemed Dad always felt drawn to my masculine spirit, let it roam free. Encouraged me in lacrosse and hockey. Let me wear my clothes, even to events where I would get stares. My parents always told me it didn’t matter who you loved, as long as you loved them because they were good people, though my mother’s gay-dar ever sharpened. Never in hate, but always good for a laugh. The reason I stay in this closet to them to this day, refusing to be the butt of some family joke.
I remember the shame growing deep inside as I lusted after my closest friend. Her and I ballroom dancing away our Thursday nights, trading off as lead. Getting stares from the coupled expanse. Dating boys in public and coming home to tell her, much to her chagrin. Spending our evenings cuddled watching shows, instantly separating upon interruption. Wishing we had a space to explore our bodies without shame.
Though I know she felt the same, the words were never uttered from our lips. Platonic overtudes shading our lust in public. Ensuring everyone we were just besties, and nothing more.
As I grew older I fucked women in silence, hiding away my “dyke-ed-ness” from everyone, including myself. But I never felt like a lesbian, never felt bisexual. These words did not describe me. They didn’t feel like truth. I just never saw gender as a prerequisite for attraction. I never cared what was between a person’s legs. I neither saw myself as a man nor woman, but something in between that didn’t have a description I could muster.
And as I grew more, so did my vocabulary, an ever-growing lexicon to describe to people what didn’t even feel like my truth. Pansexual. Polyamorous. Non-binary.
I never felt that I was in the wrong body. It always felt like mine. But yet I never drawn to one or the other, only the love of my growing breasts, and hips and curves soon changed my dress code away from androgyny, limited by the binary selections that didn’t suit my mood.
The lack of jealousy that drove my first boyfriend wild, instantly made sense in a world beyond this cesspool of bigotry, where I was free to have multiple loves and partners and not be tied to a monogamous hopes and dreams.
As I age, none of the labels yet feels like a fit. I struggle to find where I belong in a world determined into binaries. Neat ideals carved out to classify our world into neat little boxes, but my box has flattened, ceasing to be conformed into a shape to serve a purpose for another. I refuse to let my identity overpower my spirit. I have broken my box. Refuse to categorize myself and be used to store other people’s shit. I will stay stacked against the wall waiting for a better shape to fit my purpose.
The only way we know to make peace is at the barrel of a gun, dropping bombs, destroying violence through our own aggression and oppression.
We see organized violence as a force to be bombed into non-existence, when it’s hearts and minds we should be bombing.
That love and tolerance, but most of all hope and opportunity, is what fights terrorism. That suffering, oppression, and violence lead to radicalization more than anything else. That violence is a learned behaviour. That it fills our minds, our hearts, and our thoughts, permeating them entirely, choking out all options for peace.
I’ve witnessed one too many wars for my 36 years. I’ve watched embargoes, interventions, sanctions, bombing campaigns decimate the hope remaining and all else in its wake. Siphoning resources from poverty and justice. Draining our last chance for lasting peace in the effort to enforce it.
8 towns. A testing ground for a new type of peacebuilding following a brutal civil war. Volatile and brimming with ethnic hatred. Divided along ancestral lines, overflowing with everyday violence, bodies lining the streets.
It started simply. Reaching out to respected leaders, elders and youth alike. Teaching facilitated dialogue, mediation and building peace through concerted and dedicated effort, passing it on to new teachers. Slow olive branches reaching out between the groups, making peace and building trust along the way.
Eight years later, the towns were unrecognizable.
During the worst of the next brutality, these towns now remained isolated in their peace. Meeting each night to discuss the rumors, to not let them rule their minds. To discuss the day’s events and make plans for every possibility. A peace made only through strict determination and daily effort towards tolerance. Now an intermarrying, intermingling, cohesive group working together for peace, relying on the overabundance of commonalities and hopes over a few deviations.
On closer shores, self-led restorative justice and mediation interrupts gang-riddled streets, reaching out to troubled youth. Breaking the anger with space and reason.
Closer to home, a new youth restorative justice program reigns with the lowest recidivism rate in the world. 0. Changing punishment to mindful meditation and restoring relations.
Remember, that tolerance is unstable in ignorance.
There are no “noble” wars. We’re wrapped in lies and half truths.
The media part of the military machine filling our hearts with propaganda that might is the only hammer to make change.
We cling to every far away trauma as a stain on humanity. As a reminder that once it was taught that violence was an inherent human attribute. Our genetic legacy.
More like a deadly fallacy.
We forget that each day, the majority of our interactions are positive or at least neutral. That we only remember the violent because it stands out in our day. It’s so shocking because it offends our very core. Because it is so in-human.
We can choose to live for peace. To say no more to the war machine. To look for the commonalities, the compromise, and have the bravery to fight violence with love and compassion. To see war as a disease that we already have the cure for, just not the will yet to battle. Have the courage to stand up and say “never again”. And truly mean it.
There are two topics we’re told to avoid in polite company: politics and religion. The two topics I’ve always been most interested in discussing. Topics I’ve felt the safety and privilege to discuss. And discuss I did.
As for politics, well, I could see nothing more important to discuss than the very structures that rule our days, engaging in the issues we most value.
Perhaps because I was born into a long-standing atheist tradition, engrained with animist backgrounds, I wanted to learn why people believed in this universal dualism, how they could be sure they were right, and the one oft repeated message I found was faith. This missing piece of my soul that I spent my teens and twenties searching for.
I found faith, then lost it again in dismay re-reading a history desperately trying to explain away the misogyny. Strongly vexed that this all knowing, all compassionate being would demean half the population and demand adoration for its jealousies. Then I realized our human brains are not large enough to grasp the realities of an unknowable force, we are given words in our realm of understanding, and then interpret those words from the mouth of the unknowable.
We can read the ancient texts and see what we want to see. Brutality and suffering and our own human insecurities and attributes tied to literal translations, or parables featuring overarching messages on how to live a good life. Lessons in tolerance and compassion.
Several legacies of the same being divided by history and culture, forgetting the similarities in all the stories. Be a good person. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t kill. Guidelines to reign in the anarchy of our tortured human history.
After reading the Torah, it made sense to me why this message persisted. I saw it retold in a peace loving version through the Bible, and later the Quran, whose overarching message, literally on every page of this now most feared book, Allah, the most compassionate, most merciful. The message of mercy and compassion seemingly lost in translation. Instead a fear and growing hate for the unknown. Cursing a book that continues the very tradition that has been passed on for generations.
For me, the message came clear as day many years ago. Heaven was gifted to us. A paradise beyond compare. With every blessing we could ever want or need within reach. The beautiful divine spirit witnessed through every pristine acre.
It’s earth. Here and now. But instead, our human insecurities led our drive. Our greed and corruption oozing out of every system…we decided hell should reign, and reign it does, suffering and mistrust from every corner. Toxicifying our paradise and separating from our brethren all for the love of God.
It’s here. It’s now. Until we learn this lesson, we are doomed to repeat and live in hell for all eternity.
We were given a life, a brain, and a voice and every beautiful splendor that this world has to offer. Whether you believe or not.
The choice is ours. Heaven is here right now. We just have to make it so.
There was only rice, and nothing else.
Almost nine months we stretched that sack, long enough to grow a full life inside, but not nearly enough to nourish it. When people ask me about the war, I often lie, but only by omission.
I strike the memories from my mind myself and tell them that mostly, it was just dreadfully boring.
Not as in uneventful.
But days upon weeks, upon months of sitting in cramped cages in silence. Filling the time by imagining all the ways I would die in horror.
Planning plans for every possible plight, then freezing when reality took hold.
We imagined a feast beyond compare, 20 courses each with spectacular detail and precision, with brines, and bastes, and marinades galore.
And that was only the first week.
By the end of our incubation our feast was a shared story of our desperation to dissociate, our narrative of hunger spelled out in our ever growing mantra. This near silent song we shared and built upon to give our days meaning and purpose, to give our bellies hope.
In all the horror that I witnessed, in all the torture I endured, it’s a plate of plain rice that now sends me spiraling.
I see maggots crawling in amongst the grains, extra protein cannot be refused, so I close my eyes and put the fork in my mouth.
Chew and swallow. Chew and swallow.
A forced act of survival.
The very act now a reminder that food is life, and without it…
Well, we saw what happens.
The emanciated bodies risking the brutality in search of scraps, finding nothing to feed their bellies but machetes. The barrel of a gun in their mouth nourishing a sweet release from the pain of starvation.
And now… the food sits rotting in my fridge, my belly and brain too confused to grasp that I no longer need to ration. My shelves lined with cans and preserves. My drawers overflowing with sustenance.
Yet I let the hunger draw out my day as a reminder. I let myself feel the pangs in the pit of my stomach before I gorge on every indulgence imaginable. Before I fill myself so full that purging becomes the only option and I’m left wanting to climb into that toilet to get back what was wasted. That I could live on just these expulsions alone for 2 and half weeks, if I only stretched it far enough.
Chew and swallow. Chew and swallow.
The most memorable lesson the war taught me is that 1/4 cup a day and a little hope is all I need to survive.